Wisconsin State Law Library

Serving the Wisconsin Supreme Court and State of Wisconsin

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WSLL @ Your Service June 2020

Service is our Mission - Amy Crowder

The questions people ask our reference librarians provide a snapshot of the law-related issues that are affecting people throughout the state. Topics include child custody, guardianship, parental rights, and divorce; evictions, foreclosure, and housing; employment and unemployment; small claims; firearms; and restraining orders. During this time, please know that our library staff continue to answer requests for information, forms, materials, legal research, and referrals to help you focus on these issues. You may send your questions using the Ask a Librarian form on our website or send an email to wsll.ref@wicourts.gov.

Library staff will scan and email materials from our print collection such as older statutes, briefs, Supreme Court orders, and jury instructions. We can locate and email sections from legal practice books or, if you are unsure, send you the table of contents or index to help pinpoint the sections you need.

Connect to a Legal Assistance Organization

Reference librarians connect self-represented users to legal assistance clinics and organizations throughout the state. Legal clinic services have changed over the past few months. Some have transitioned to providing services via websites while others give you the option to speak with a legal clinic attorney on the phone. During the current health emergency, the State Law Library has partnered with legal assistance clinics to provide statewide help to people seeking answers in small claims and family law matters. To connect with these clinics, send us a request through our Ask a Librarian form or send an email to wsll.ref@wicourts.gov.

Borrow by Mail

You have probably heard that some public libraries are offering curbside pick-up. We also know that many of you rely on the library's print collection. The David T. Prosser Jr. Library will be offering our own take on this service. Since we do not have a convenient parking lot to manage this service, we will deliver the books to your door via UPS. We are slashing our normal Borrow by Mail service fee by half, to $7.50 per volume. This service will be available throughout the state, including the Madison and Milwaukee areas. Attorneys licensed to practice in the State of Wisconsin may use this service. Send a request through our Borrow by Mail form, or ask a reference librarian for help.

While our libraries are closed to the public we encourage you to continue to reach out to the State Law Library for quick, friendly help!

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Celebrating Lavinia Goodell (Part Two)

We recently talked to Wisconsin Supreme Court Commissioner Nancy Kopp and Attorney Colleen Ball about their biographical website devoted to Lavinia Goodell, http://www.laviniagoodell.com. This is the second in a two part series. Read the first half in our May newsletter.

Lavinia Goodell, Wisconsin's first woman lawyer, was a trailblazer in the legal profession. When her first attempt to gain admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court was denied, she criticized the "decision in the local and national press, drafted a bill to prohibit gender discrimination in the practice of law, lobbied male legislators to pass it and a male governor to sign it, moved again for admission to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, prevailed, argued [and won] her first case there," according to the website's introduction.

Not content to let Lavinia's story remain a short line in a history book, LaviniaGoodell.com gives us a more complete picture of the life of this fascinating woman and rounds out her story with letters, family photos, diary entries, and more. In recent months, Kopp and Ball's efforts to educate the world about Lavinia have been widely recognized. Their efforts helped speed the discovery of Lavinia's certificate of admission to practice and it's now housed with the Wisconsin Historical Society, and their work is featured in several news articles. In 2019, the State Bar of Wisconsin awarded Lavinia Goodell the Lifetime Legal Innovator award posthumously for opening the practice of law to women.

Lavinia Goodell website header

You've done extensive research on Lavinia Goodell that has expanded into her family and wide social and professional network. What tips do you have for researching historical figures?

Run down sources cited in footnotes. Don't be shy about contacting relatives. Make friends with archivists and get them excited about your project. Use Ancestry.com. And approach the project like a private detective. Nancy really should have been one. Her tenacious investigation has unearthed incredible, personal information about Lavinia —like her probate file and the contest over her will.

You run into many dead ends and you have to be very persistent and keep thinking of different ways to search. When historical documents are put online or digitized, names are often misspelled. (The WHS's index of death records has Lavinia's name spelled wrong.) Building addresses often change over time. I became obsessed with trying to figure out the location of Lavinia's home in Janesville and her office in Madison. In the big picture of Lavinia's life neither of these details is earth shattering but I was determined to figure it out and eventually I did by spending many hours poring over online city directories and old maps.

Lori Myers-Steele and Sharyn Mitchell, archivists at Berea College which holds the Goodell Family Archive, have been enormously helpful to us. And we never would have found the court files for cases that Lavinia litigated without Jennifer Motszko, an archivist at UW-Whitewater. The Wisconsin State Law Library also helped locate bills Lavinia drafted and that John Cassoday introduced in the 1870's, and journals of the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly for 1856 with a Janesville petition for equal suffrage.

Do you think you've found all there is to find on Lavinia, or has your research only begun?

We have probably found the bulk of the existing primary sources, but we hope we might still unearth more of her correspondence and her case files.

There are surely letters, speeches, articles, public records, maybe even diaries still to be found.

The excerpts from Lavinia's letters and diaries show a woman with a sharp sense of humor and a keen interest in a wide variety of topics. What were some of your favorite discoveries about Lavinia? Are there things you want our readers to know?

There was so much more to her story than just being a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She was very active in the Congregational church. She spent a huge amount of time teaching classes to inmates at the Rock County jail. She believed that the young men who were incarcerated had potential and she tried to set them on the straight and narrow. She wrote them long letters, giving praise or criticism, as needed. Some of the inmates referred to her as "Mother." Although she was in poor health for much of her life, she was an indefatigable worker who always welcomed a challenge and truly wanted to make the world a better place.

Readers should know that Lavinia was not just a local heroine. For several years, she appeared to be on the leading edge of the women's rights movement. In the mid-1870s, the national press, and even smaller papers in other states, reported on her admission to the Rock County Circuit Court, her court cases, and her battle with Chief Justice Edward Ryan. She was also invited to speak at major national conventions. Unfortunately, her health, which was never good, became much worse around 1877. Plus she was managing everything for her ailing parents. That's about the time Lavinia began fading from the national scene.

As far as we know, Lavinia is the only one of America's earliest women lawyers whose detailed diaries and many personal letters still exist. Her intellect, causes, and story arc make her worthy of a feature length documentary or miniseries.

Some favorite discoveries:

  • When Lavinia was in her 20s and helping her father run The Principia (her father's anti-slavery paper) she published quite a few of her own romance stories in it. Remember, Lavinia never married partly because a wife lost legal and property rights. The romances she idealized always involved women and men who were intellectual equals and partners in decision making.
  • The day the Rock County Circuit Court admitted her to practice, making her the first woman lawyer in Wisconsin, was the same day Edward G. Ryan began serving on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
  • In 1875, Lavinia ran for Janesville City Attorney. According to research by two professors (Jill Norgen and Wendy Chmielewski) who track women who ran for office before they had the right to vote, Lavinia was the first woman in the country to run for this office.
  • There's a myth that the Wisconsin's women's suffrage movement began with a group of women meeting in Richland Center in 1882. That's not true. Lavinia Goodell was advocating for suffrage in the early and mid-1870s (and others did before her). In 1878, Lavinia was one of many women who signed a petition asking Congress for the right to vote. This was the first woman's suffrage amendment proposed in the United States, and it was the model for the one that ultimately passed 100 years ago.

We're grateful to Nancy Kopp and Colleen Ball for taking the time to share their research journey with us, and for sharing LaviniaGoodell.com with the world. In addition to new blog posts, visit their website in the coming months for new pages on Lavinia's battle to be admitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and her court cases.

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New Digital Materials - Kari Zelinka

This month we bring you new online materials you can access from home or the office, wherever you are currently working. The Wisconsin Courts, Legislative Reference Bureau, and other agencies have produced new material, and these are all easy to find in our catalog. To find the latest documents related to Covid-19, search for "Covid-19" as a keyword in our catalog. We have highlighted below a few new resources on this topic and others.

New digital materials include:

New Titles RSS Feed See our latest New Titles list for a list of new books and other resources.

For assistance in accessing these or other resources, please contact our Reference Desk.

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Tech Tip - Heidi Yelk

Customized maps are easy with MapChart.net

Using charts in presentations and reports helps readers better visualize information. MapChart.net is a free website that lets you create customized maps to represent data or information. MapChart.net covers almost any geographical division, right down to the county level for U.S. States.

This website is easy to use, with step-by-step instructions on the page. It provides very basic options for colors and labels. A tutorial is provided to demonstrate additional features beyond the basics. A companion site, HistoricalMapChart.net provides maps with historical boundaries dating back to 1790.

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Library News - Carol Hassler

Annual report

Read our 2019 annual report, now available on our website. Following on the heels of our first annual report from last year, this publication summarizes the Library's accomplishments throughout 2019.

Last year librarians responded to your questions, provided information through our website, newsletter, and blog, provided access to our collection, and maintained a viable and relevant collection of print and online resources. Our reference librarians responded to questions on "hot topics" including cannabidiol (CBD hemp), pardons, accessing public records, and immigration. In 2019, we reached out to many groups. You may have seen us at a conference, library, or state agency. We also devoted a lot of staff time towards improving access to our print and online collections to help users wherever they are located.

Westlaw webinar

While our in-person classes are on hiatus, we'll continue to provide you with opportunities to learn online. In June, sign up for a Westlaw webinar to learn more about trial and appellate court research.

Litigation Research on Westlaw for Patron Access
Thursday, June 18, 10:00-11:00 AM
Location: Webinar | Register for this webinar

Join a Westlaw representative online for a one-hour CLE "Litigation Research on Westlaw for Patron Access." Explore how the library's Westlaw resources can be used to assist in trial and appellate court research.

FREE. 1 CLE credit. Register for this webinar!

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June Snapshot

Library Construction
By Amy Crowder

Sidewalk construction while we are closed to the public will refresh the Capitol with a vibrant, refurbished terrace along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

We are accepting snapshots! Do you have a photo highlighting libraries, attractions or points of historical interest? Send your photo the editor at carol.hassler@wicourts.gov to be included in a future issue.

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